Tar Heels Bag Scout Honors

When North Carolina lost its top seven players, including NBA lottery selections Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams, from its national championship squad, people figured the Tar Heels' 2006 success would take a big hit. People figured wrong

If you've followed the progress that the University of North Carolina basketball team has made over the course of the season, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to you as to whom the Scout.com Coach and Freshman of the Year honorees are.

 

After dropping three (two of those at home) of four games in a 12-day stretch of January, Roy Williams' Tar Heels have won 10 of their past 11 games and will go into the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament this week as one of the nation's hottest teams.

 

And, after they lost their top seven players from their 2005 national championship roster, including four NBA Draft lottery selections, who would have imagined that the Tar Heels could be in position to make a strong push for a return to the Final Four a year later?

 

Since relocating to Lawrence, Kansas, in the spring of 1988 as a first-time head coach at Kansas and then returning to Chapel Hill to coach his alma mater two springs ago, Williams has turned in many marvelous performances.

 

None of those, however, were as impressive as what he has done this season with a squad of five freshmen and a handful of little-used veterans, none of whom had averaged more than 3.9 points per game before this season.

 

That's why he's the Scout.com 2005-07 Coach of the Year, beating out a particularly large number of near-equally impressive efforts by some of his peers.

 

And the Tar Heels wouldn't be sitting with a 21-6 record and be in position for a likely No. 2 seed into the NCAA Tournament today if not for the production of post player Tyler Hansbrough.

 

He was an easy selection as the Scout.com Freshman of the Year. In fact, the center from Poplar, Bluff, was chosen to the fourth team of the Scout.com All-America team last Friday.

 

A closer look at some of the coaches and freshmen considered for Scout.com honors:

 

Scout.com Coach of the Year

Roy Williams (North Carolina)

Has ever a program lost so much and yet been so good in the following season? In November, a trip to the NCAA Tournament from within the tough Atlantic Coast Conference would have been considered "over achieving" by many. Now the Tar Heels are something beyond "dark horse" candidates to be playing on the final weekend of the season.

 

Runners-up

Ben Howland (UCLA)

It took Howland just three years to turn a program that won just 10 games in Steve Lavin's final season into the Pacific 10 Conference champion. And the Bruins have won 24 games despite being without one of their three best players (sophomore forward Josh Shipp, with a hip injury) for all but four games this season.

 

Thad Matta (Ohio State)

A Big Ten Conference championship was expected out of the Buckeyes. But it was supposed to come a year from now, when freshman Greg Oden is expected to be the dominant inside presence nationally. Ninety-nine, point-nine percent – or more – of the very few who thought it was do-able this season may reside in Columbus.

 

Bruce Pearl (Tennessee)

He was the favorite until North Carolina continued to improve at a rapid-fire pace over the past month. After Pearl was lured away from Wisconsin-Milwaukee last spring, he was expected to turn the Volunteers into NCAA Tournament participants but not quite as quickly as Pearl pulled it off.

 

Bill Self (Kansas)

Despite a player rotation made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores, Self was able to coax a very surprising Big 12 Conference co-championship performance out of the Jayhawks.

 

Bruce Weber (Illinois)

After losing two NBA Draft first-round selections (Deron Williams and Luther Head) from their backcourt, as well as their best forward (Roger Powell), this was supposed to border on a "rebuilding" season for the Illini. But Bruce Weber's handiwork, orchestrated by senior guard Dee Brown, was enough to bring this team back to a Top 10 ranking and just one game short of a Big Ten Conference championship.

 

Jay Wright (Villanova)

The Wildcats are playing without the guy (forward Curtis Sumpter, sidelined with an ACL injury) expected to be their best player and there are probably only 275 NCAA Division I teams with taller starting lineups. But the Wildcats shared the Big East Conference's regular-season championship with Connecticut and are strong contenders for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Take a bow, Coach Wright.

 

Honorable mention: John Brady (LSU), John Calipari (Memphis), Tom Crean (Marquette), Mark Fox (Nevada), Karl Hobbs (George Washington), Darrin Horn (Western Kentucky), Chris Lowery (Southern Illinois), Lorenzo Romar (Washington), David Rose (BYU) and  Bob Thomason (Pacific)

 

Freshman of the Year

Tyler Hansbrough (6-8, North Carolina)

Well before Saturday night, he was the obvious choice as the top freshman in the country. After his performance (27 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots) during the 83-76 victory in a regular-season finale at Duke, "obvious" became "the no-brainer" choice.

Stats: 19.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals per game (.582 FG%)

 

Freshmen All-America

First Team

Dominic James (5-11, Marquette)

He was easily the most influential newcomer in the Big East Conference and the co-prime reason (with senior forward Steve Novak) the Golden Eagles will be in the NCAA Tournament field.

Stats: 15.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.6 steals per game (.440)

 

Brandon Rush (6-5, Kansas)

His decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft pool proved a "win-win" situation – for both he and Bill Self's Jayhawks.
Stats:
14.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals per game (.495 FG%, .511 on 3's)

 

Rodney Stuckey (6-3, Eastern Washington)

The best freshman most college basketball fans had never heard of until recently. He may already be the most gifted guard in the West.

Stats: 24.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 steals per game (.493 FG%, .376 on 3's)

 

Tyrus Thomas (6-8, LSU)

He is the most talented player on the most talented team in the Southeastern Conference.

Stats: 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 3.0 blocks per game (.598 FG%)

 

Shawne Williams (6-9, Memphis)

He may be the most versatile freshman in this class.

Stats: 13.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocked shots per game (.410 FG%)

 

Second Team

Mario Chalmers (6-2, Kansas)

After a slow start, the Anchorage native has evolved into one of the Big 12's best guards.

Stats: 10.9 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.8 steals per game (.433 FG%, .358 on 3's)

 

Richard Hendrix (6-8, Alabama)

After senior forward Chuck Davis was sideline with an ACL injury, he more than picked up the slack (he averaged 11.3 points and 10.1 rebounds over the final 13 games).

Stats: 9.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocked shots per game (.554 FG%)

 

Trent Plaisted (6-11, BYU)

He proved to be among the Mountain West Conference's best players – regardless of class level.

Stats: 13.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists per game (.516 FG%)

 

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (6-7, UCLA)

The native of Cameroon earned top frosh honors in the Pac 10 for the conference champions.

Stats: 8.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.1 steals per game (.529 FG%)

 

Marcus Williams (6-7, Arizona)

He was among the most productive freshmen Lute Olson has coached.

Stats: 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists per game (.479 FG%, .444 on 3's)

 

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com


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